One of our recommended books is Strongheart by Jim Fergus

STRONGHEART

The Lost Journals of May Dodd and Molly McGill


Strongheart is the final installment to the One Thousand White Women trilogy, a novel about fierce women who are full of heart and the power to survive.

In 1873, a Cheyenne chief offers President Grant the opportunity to exchange one thousand horses for one thousand white women, in order to marry them with his warriors and create a lasting peace. These women, “recruited” by force in the penitentiaries and asylums of the country, gradually integrate the way of life of the Cheyenne, at the time when the great massacres of the tribes begin.

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Strongheart is the final installment to the One Thousand White Women trilogy, a novel about fierce women who are full of heart and the power to survive.

In 1873, a Cheyenne chief offers President Grant the opportunity to exchange one thousand horses for one thousand white women, in order to marry them with his warriors and create a lasting peace. These women, “recruited” by force in the penitentiaries and asylums of the country, gradually integrate the way of life of the Cheyenne, at the time when the great massacres of the tribes begin.

After the battle of Little Big Horn, some female survivors decide to take up arms against the United States, which has stolen from the Native Americans their lands, their way of life, their culture and their history. This ghost tribe of rebellious women will soon go underground to wage an implacable battle, which will continue from generation to generation.

In this final volume of the One Thousand White Women trilogy, Jim Fergus mixes with rare mastery the struggle of women and Native Americans in the face of oppression, from the end of the 19th century until today. With a vivid sense of the 19th century American West, Fergus paints portraits of women as strong as they are unforgettable.

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  • St. Martin's Griffin
  • Paperback
  • April 2021
  • 400 Pages
  • 9781250303677

Buy the Book

$17.99

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About Jim Fergus

Jim Fergus is the author of One Thousand White Women, The Sporting Road, A Hunter’s Road and Wild Girl. His articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of national magazines and newspapers, including Newsweek, Newsday, The Paris Review, Esquire, Sports Afield, and Field & Stream. Fergus was born in Chicago and attended Colorado College. He worked as a teaching tennis professional before becoming a full-time freelance writer. He lives in southern Arizona.

Excerpt

Introduction

by Molly Standing Bear

I’ve decided I’m not giving the rest of this story to the white-man editor JW Dodd, after all. It belongs to me, to my family, to the People, and especially to the Stronghearts, and no one can tell it better than I. You see, first they invaded our country, sent their army to massacre us, stole our land, our way of life, our culture. To facilitate that process, they destroyed our livelihood by killing off our brothers, the buffalo, over thirty million of whom once populated these vast plains of grass. By the time the white man’s extermination was complete, their numbers had been reduced to a few hundred left in Yellowstone Park, and those few of us who had survived the wars had been confined on reservations, which we were not allowed to leave.

They stole our children, and with them our language, sent them to schools run by priests, cut their hair short, beat them if they spoke their own tongue, and abused them in ways unknown and unimaginable to the People. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, they stole our history and our stories, twisted and perverted them to hide the shame of their own behavior, to absolve them of guilt for their insatiable greed, their insatiable need to acquire. Does this sound like the America you know? No? Well, I didn’t think so. But it is the one we know.

It’s not that I have anything against JW Dodd. Quite the contrary, I like the man, and I remember having a little yearning for him way back when I was a kid on the res. We Indian girls didn’t meet many white boys in those days, and if we did it wasn’t the kind of encounter you’d want to have … in fact, JW was the first white boy I ever liked, and he liked me, too. He used to come out in the summertime with his dad, who went by the name of Will Dodd, a direct descendant of May Dodd. As white men go, Will Dodd was well liked and respected on the reservation, for the simple reason that he was a gentleman and honest, and he treated us with respect and consideration.

A few years back, I took another piece of the story to JW at his office in Chicago. Upon the sudden death of his father he was now running the magazine. I delivered it in my persona as a Strongheart warrior woman—beaded buckskin shift, leather leggings and moccasins, my hair in braids wrapped in rawhide straps with beads and small bones tied into them, knife and scalp belt around my waist, from which dangled real human scalps … white-man scalps. You see, I am a shape-shifter, I have the ability to assume different forms, which I inherited from one side of my family. Now let me state right here that I really couldn’t care less if you believe this or not, and I’m not going to waste our time here trying to convince you one way or the other. I am just telling my story, our story, and maybe you will come to believe it … or not … that I leave entirely up to you.

On that day in Chicago, I was met at the front desk of the magazine by an insipid little white-girl receptionist named Chloe … I think … or another of those currently popular white-girl names. I have to say that I am a fierce-looking woman, especially in my Strongheart incarnation, and the receptionist looked me up and down with an expression that shifted between nervousness, disdain, and a kind of superior amusement. I was carrying a pair of old leather saddlebags over my shoulder that had belonged to one of the 7th cavalry soldiers killed on June 25, 1876, at the Battle of Greasy Grass, or, as the white men call it, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Custer’s Last Stand. The saddlebags had been taken off the dead horse of the dead soldier, a boy named Miller, by one of my ancestors, the white woman Molly McGill Hawk, who had married into our tribe, and they had been passed down by the generations of women until finally arriving in my possession.

“May I help you?” asked the receptionist, Chloe.

“I’d like to see your publisher, JW Dodd.”

“And whom may I tell Mr. Dodd is asking to see him?”

“None of your business,” I answered. “Just tell him we know each other, and that I have something that will interest him.”

This took her aback for a moment, and I could tell she was more than a little afraid of me now. “Would you mind taking a seat?” she asked, “and I’ll ask Mr. Dodd to come out.”

“Yes, I would mind. I’ll wait right here.”

“Since you got through security downstairs,” she said, looking again at my attire, “may I assume you aren’t carrying anything dangerous in those bags?”

“You may assume that,” I answered, “but I suppose that depends on what your definition of ‘dangerous’ is.”

Now she pecked something out on her cell phone, which shortly thereafter sounded a tone. This exchange of pecking and tones went on three or four more times.

When JW Dodd finally came out it was obvious he didn’t recognize me. He regarded me with an expression of surprise and curiosity, but without judgment … I’ll give him that. He led me to his office past a series of glass cubicles in which other workers appeared to be pecking things out on their various devices. They all looked up to watch me pass. I looked back at each of them with my best Strongheart, don’t-fuck-with-me gaze, and when I did they were forced to cast their eyes away from its ferocity.

JW indicated that I sit in the chair in front of his desk, and took his own behind it. “My receptionist tells me that you mentioned we know each other,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t recognize you.”

“We met some years ago on the Tongue River Indian Reservation,” I answered. “I didn’t expect you to remember me. We were just kids. You invited me to go to the movies at the res community center.”

He laughed, suddenly remembering. “Of course, how could I forget? I had just turned thirteen years old, and you were the first girl I ever asked out on a date. I was walking from my dad’s trailer, where we parked on the res, to pick you up at your house, when a group of Cheyenne boys waylaid me and beat the crap out of me. You’re Molly Standing Bear, all grown up.”

“That’s right,” I said. “For a white boy to ask an Indian girl to the movies was overstepping tribal boundaries.”

“Yeah, I got that part.”

I remember that young JW came to my house anyway that day, all beat up and bleeding, his new jeans and the fresh white, white-boy button-down shirt he put on for the movies dirty, torn, and stained with his blood. I kind of admired him for coming like that. It showed a certain strength of character and tenacity on his part. But my mother wouldn’t let me go to the door, and I watched from the window as she sent him away. That was the last time I saw him.

Because we had trusted his father, I left those saddlebags with JW Dodd that day in his office. They contained the journals of Meggie Kelly and Molly McGill, which as his father had done with May Dodd’s journals, and after I gave him permission, he would later publish in serial form in Chitown magazine.

I could tell that day that JW still liked me; I knew he had been well educated by his dad in the history of the Plains Indians, at least the white man’s version of our history. I have to give some credit to his father, Will, for he put in the time to get to know some of the elders, who still had the old oral stories in their heads. And just maybe it was my outfit that attracted JW, too, being authentic, my savage look maybe triggering a white boy’s fantasy of seducing the Indian girl. He asked me if I still wanted to have that movie date, or maybe dinner, now that we were grown-ups, but I shut him down. I let him know this was a business call, not personal.

A few weeks later, JW showed up on the res, driving his dad’s beat-up old Suburban, and pulling the vintage Airstream trailer they always stayed in when they came out here. Both the truck and the trailer looked like they had been parked and forgotten somewhere for a couple of decades. He didn’t know it, but I was watching as he pulled up in front of tribal headquarters and stepped out of the vehicle.

It was a Saturday and only one woman was in the office, a Southern Cheyenne girl who had just recently come up from the res in Oklahoma. She was working on the weekend in order to familiarize herself with her new job. We didn’t know each other yet, but I found out later that JW asked her where he could find me, and when she tried to look me up on their website, she found that I was not enrolled as a tribal member. The only records of me she was able to find in the digital archives were a twenty-year-old police report about domestic abuse, and my obituary.

After his inquiry at headquarters, JW drove his rig to a pull-off along the river outside town, the same place he and his dad used to camp, but these days a favorite spot for alcohol and drug users to party at night, especially on a Saturday. Of course, I knew of all his movements almost before he did because the res is small and not exactly a popular vacation destination for whites, who rarely spend the night there unless stranded by weather or car trouble. Word travels fast and it is ingrained in the tribal DNA to be suspicious of any white man who comes to town asking questions, looking for someone, and pitching camp for the night.

Just after dark, I walked down the river bottom from town to see JW. Before I approached his trailer, I hung back in the shadows for a moment and watched as he was being harassed outside his door by three Indians I knew to be meth heads. Hanging out by a pickup truck nearby in which they must have arrived were four more men and five women. I had to laugh because two of those at JW’s door had been among the boys who beat him up when they were kids. They were threatening now to kick his ass unless he gave them his money and whatever alcohol he had in the trailer. I liked that he didn’t seem afraid of them. He said he’d give them what he had, and he turned to go into his trailer to get it, when they called him a chickenshit. He stopped and turned back to them. “You know, I count seven of you altogether,” he said, looking over at the others who were watching and snickering at the white man interloper, “and just one of me … so yeah, I guess maybe I am a chickenshit, or else maybe I’m just not stupid and don’t want to get my ass kicked tonight.”

Copyright © 2021 by Jim Fergus